AFC North: Draft Watch

Draft Watch: AFC North

April, 21, 2011
4/21/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: dream scenarios and Plan B.

Cincinnati Bengals

Dream scenario: The Bengals own the best pick in the AFC North at No. 4 overall. The Bengals can go in a lot of different directions. So their dream scenario involves flexibility. Cincinnati, ideally, would like one of the top two quarterbacks -- Auburn's Cam Newton or Missouri's Blaine Gabbert -- to be available at No. 4. That way the Bengals can decide whether they like one of these quarterbacks as Carson Palmer's replacement or entertain trade offers. Cincinnati would be in a position of power at the top of the draft.

Plan B: If both Newton and Gabbert are gone within the first three picks, Plan B would be to fill a need with the highest player on their draft board. Georgia receiver A.J. Green and LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson are two possibilities.

Cleveland Browns

Dream scenario: Cleveland's dream position is pretty similar to Cincinnati's. If one of the top two quarterbacks fall to No. 6, the Browns should have no shortage of interested trade partners looking to draft Newton or Gabbert. The Washington Redskins at No. 10 could be a possible suitor, as well as the Minnesota Vikings at No. 12.

Plan B: If Newton and Gabbert are off the board at No. 6, that increases the chance of Cleveland using the pick. The Browns need receivers and defensive linemen in the worst way. Defensive linemen Marcell Dareus of Auburn and Robert Quinn of North Carolina are possibilities on defense, and on offense Green is the most likely target. A dark horse for the Browns could be Peterson. Secondary help is not Cleveland’s biggest need. But if Peterson is dangling there at No. 6, he may be too good to pass up.

Baltimore Ravens

Dream scenario: The Ravens thrive on finding great value picks late in round and have another chance at No. 26. This draft is very deep, and a top-15 talent could be available in the late-20s. The Ravens need offensive linemen and pass-rushers. Therefore, a dream scenario would be for Baltimore to have the ability to choose several players at these positions. Some possible options would be Colorado offensive tackle Nate Solder, Florida guard Mike Pouncey and pass-rusher Ryan Kerrigan of Purdue.

Plan B: The Ravens could also address a lesser need but add talent at wide receiver or corner in the first round. Colorado CB Jimmy Smith could help the Ravens, but he enters the draft with character concerns.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Dream scenario: A dream scenario for the reigning AFC champions would be reuniting Mike Pouncey with his twin brother, Maurkice Pouncey, to anchor the offensive line in Pittsburgh. But the Steelers have the No. 31 pick and know that's probably not going to happen barring a trade up.

Plan B: A more realistic option would be to draft a cornerback, a position the Steelers must upgrade and has little depth. No. 1 corner Ike Taylor and top reserve William Gay are pending free agents, and there's no guarantee either will return. Texas defensive back Aaron Williams and Miami corner Brandon Harris are options. Drafting an offensive linemen also is a possibility.

Draft Watch: AFC North

April, 14, 2011
4/14/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: draft philosophy.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens often follow the philosophy of the right player at the right price. Therefore, Baltimore is not afraid to trade up in the draft or trade back if the value is right. As a result, Baltimore traditionally finds great players who were overlooked by other teams. The Ravens also are very good at scouting what I call "football character," which is somewhat different from regular character. Football character is having a certain toughness, confidence and an edge to fit into Baltimore's locker room full of strong personalities. The Ravens play with a certain attitude and swagger, particularly on defense, and it's not for everyone.

Cincinnati Bengals

Explaining the Bengals' draft philosophy can be tricky. Their approach is conservative. Rarely do you see a lot of wheeling and dealing coming from Cincinnati's draft room. The last time the Bengals pulled off a significant, draft-day trade in the first round was in 2004, when the St. Louis Rams moved up to draft tailback Steven Jackson and Cincinnati took Chris Perry. So expect Cincinnati to stay put this year at No. 4. But when it is time for the Bengals to pick players, they are not afraid to take character risks in exchange for talent. Sometimes it works out (Carlos Dunlap) for Cincinnati and sometimes it doesn't (Andre Smith).

Cleveland Browns

You didn't know what to expect from the Browns last year in the first draft under president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert. But the pair did a solid job working together for the first time. Cleveland landed solid rookies such as cornerback Joe Haden, safety T.J. Ward and quarterback Colt McCoy in the first three rounds. All three were starters by midseason. If any trend could be read from just one year, it's that the Browns will continue to attack their biggest needs. Last year the secondary and quarterback positions were thin after the new regime cleaned house, cutting quarterback Derek Anderson and trading Brady Quinn. This year the biggest needs are defensive line and wide receiver, which Holmgren and Heckert will surely address in this draft.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Philosophically, the Steelers are great at projecting two and three years ahead. For example, they will draft tailback Rashard Mendenhall in the first round, despite the fact Willie Parker rushed for 1,316 yards the previous year in 2007. Three seasons later, Mendenhall is a star in Pittsburgh and Parker has hit a wall. Or they will draft linebackers LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons, even if they don't need them right away. The Steelers are willing to groom players for a couple of seasons before they become productive. Defensive end Ziggy Hood, a first-round pick in 2009, is another good example. Usually Pittsburgh can afford the luxury of taking the best available players. But this year the team has well-defined needs, such as cornerback and the offensive line.

Draft Watch: AFC North

April, 7, 2011
4/07/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: history in that spot.

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals' top pick is No. 4 overall. Here are the last seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:

2010: OT Trent Williams, (Redskins)

2009: LB Aaron Curry (Seahawks)

2008: RB Darren McFadden (Raiders)

2007: DE Gaines Adams (Buccaneers)

2006: OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson (Jets)

2005: RB Cedric Benson (Bears)

2004: QB Philip Rivers (Chargers)

Analysis: Draft history shows the Bengals are in a good spot at No. 4. Most players on this list have turned out to be productive pros or are getting playing time right away while trying to make a name for themselves. The last franchise quarterback taken in this spot was Rivers, who was drafted by the Giants and traded to the Chargers on draft day in 2004. That was a great pick in a strong quarterback class that included the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger and the Giants' Eli Manning. Is that caliber of quarterback available this year for the Bengals, whose starter, Carson Palmer, has threatened to retire? Prospects such as Auburn's Cam Newton and Missouri's Blaine Gabbert would be much riskier picks.

Cleveland Browns

The Browns' top pick is No. 6 overall. Here are the last seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:

2010: OT Russell Okung (Seahawks)

2009: OT Andre Smith (Bengals)

2008: LB Vernon Gholston (Jets)

2007: S LaRon Landry (Redskins)

2006: TE Vernon Davis (49ers)

2005: CB Adam Jones (Titans)

2004: TE Kellen Winslow Jr. (Browns)

Analysis: Recent history shows the No. 6 overall pick can be hit or miss. Smith, Gholston and Jones are all certified busts as big-money draft picks. It's too early to tell with Okung, while Landry, Davis and Winslow have all had multiple productive seasons in the NFL. The Browns went 5-11 for the second consecutive year after having a similar pick in 2010. In the first year under president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert, Cleveland took cornerback Joe Haden at No. 7 overall, and he turned out to be a solid selection. The Browns need to add another impact player from the top of this draft to close the gap with the Ravens and Steelers.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens' top pick is No. 26 overall. Here are the last seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:

2010: DT Dan Williams (Cardinals)

2009: LB Clay Matthews Jr. (Packers)

2008: OT Duane Brown (Texans)

2007: LB Anthony Spencer (Cowboys)

2006: DT John McCargo (Bills)

2005: C Chris Spencer (Seahawks)

2004: RB Chris Perry (Bengals)

Analysis: Picking late in the first round is one of the toughest things to do for any franchise, but the Ravens thrive on it. General manager Ozzie Newsome is one of the best at finding late-round gems. Current Ravens such as Michael Oher, Ben Grubbs, Ed Reed, Todd Heap and Ray Lewis were all taken with picks No. 23 and later. Matthews is the most recent gem at No. 26. He was selected by the Green Bay Packers two years ago and quickly became one of the most dominant defensive players in the NFL. But Baltimore also has to be careful. Most of this recent group has failed to live up to expectations.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers' top pick is No. 31 overall. Here are the last seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:

2010: DE Jerry Hughes (Colts)

2009: RB Beanie Wells (Cardinals)

2008: S Kenny Phillips (Giants)

2007: TE Greg Olsen (Bears)

2006: CB Kelly Jennings (Seahawks)

2005: DT Mike Patterson (Eagles)

2004: WR Rashaun Woods (49ers)

Analysis: The Steelers, who have six championships, are in the unfamiliar position of being Super Bowl losers. They will try to use the No. 31 overall pick to fill one of the team's needs. These players are not expected to be superstars. But they are first-round picks and the goal is to become productive starters. Pittsburgh is similar to Baltimore with its ability to find great players late in rounds. Since 2005, Pittsburgh has drafted Rashard Mendenhall, Heath Miller, Ziggy Hood and Santonio Holmes with picks No. 23 and later. The Steelers will aim to continue their late-round success in this draft.

Draft Watch: AFC North

March, 31, 2011
3/31/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: decision-makers.

Baltimore Ravens

Ozzie Newsome continues to be one of the NFL's best general managers, and right-hand man Eric DeCosta is starting to create a significant buzz in league circles as well. DeCosta is widely viewed as the Ravens' future GM whenever Newsome decides to retire. But together they have helped Baltimore become a consistent contender in the AFC North.

The Ravens rely heavily on their regional scouts to provide the initial groundwork, while the front office digs deeper to determine which prospects fit the system. The Ravens have an established identity, and they evaluate toughness and football character better than most teams. Baltimore also thrives on finding value picks in the draft, particularly in the middle rounds, which is hard to do.

Cincinnati Bengals

Many have been critical of Cincinnati's lack of a general manager and lighter resources in its front office and scouting staff. Bengals owner Mike Brown recently defended the practice. But the results, which include zero back-to-back winning seasons in 29 years, speak volumes.

The Bengals had a solid draft last year and that needs to continue to develop the same consistency as their rivals. With fewer resources than most teams, the Bengals too often miss on important things such as character and work ethic, which eventually comes back to haunt them.

Cleveland Browns

The power duo of president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert flexed its muscle for the first time last year in Cleveland. The result was a solid draft that landed cornerback Joe Haden, safety T.J. Ward and quarterback Colt McCoy in the first three rounds. The Browns also made a shrewd trade to land 1,000-yard rusher Peyton Hillis from the Denver Broncos for quarterback Brady Quinn.

But Cleveland posted its second consecutive 5-11 season, proving there is still plenty of work to do. Starting with the No. 6 overall pick, Holmgren and Heckert have a chance to land impact players in this draft to help ease the transition for rookie head coach Pat Shurmur.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Not much has changed in Pittsburgh, which is a good thing for the Steelers. Pittsburgh continues to let the front office dominate the offseason while giving way to the coaching staff during the season. Kevin Colbert mostly stays out of the public eye but is well-known as one of the league's top general managers. The Steelers continue to build through the draft and got plenty of rookie contributions last year from center Maurkice Pouncey and receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown during their Super Bowl run.

This year some of Pittsburgh's philosophies will be put to the test. The team usually avoids cornerbacks in the first round but may have several good options at No. 31. The Steelers also have the propensity to take the best available player later in the first round instead of the biggest need. Do not be surprised if the Steelers go against the grain in both instances.

Draft Watch: AFC North

March, 24, 2011
3/24/11
12:00
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NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: schemes and themes.

Baltimore Ravens

Two of Baltimore's needs involve players to fit a certain scheme. Defensively, the Ravens are searching for a versatile pass-rusher who can complement Pro Bowler Terrell Suggs and play in both 3-4 and 4-3 defenses. Baltimore is one of the few teams that play a varying scheme. Suggs is the prototype, because he can put his hand in the dirt as a defensive end as well as stand up and rush the passer or drop into coverage. The Ravens have reportedly shown interest in several pass-rushers, including Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan and Georgia’s Justin Houston.

Offensively, the Ravens need a speedy deep threat at receiver to plug into offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's vertical passing game. Baltimore wants to run an attacking-style offense that puts more pressure on the defense. But the team struggled to stretch the field with mostly possession receivers last season. If the Ravens can find a burner who can make the same impact Mike Wallace did for the Pittsburgh Steelers two years ago, it could take Baltimore's offense to the next level. One option could be Maryland receiver Torrey Smith.

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals are one of two Ohio teams switching to a West Coast offense this season, and that will impact their draft strategy.

For starters, Cincinnati has to draft a quarterback to fit the system, which is based on timing and accuracy. Franchise quarterback Carson Palmer wants out and threatened to retire. In his mind, he's not coming back and the Bengals have to plan accordingly. Cincinnati has been linked to Auburn's Cam Newton the most. But don’t rule out Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert, Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett or other top quarterback prospects.

Depending on the future of veteran Chad Ochocinco, Cincinnati may also be in the market for a receiver. All indications are that the Bengals want to go younger at the position, which would make Ochocinco, 33, trade bait this offseason. Georgia receiver A.J. Green could be a possibility for Cincinnati at No. 4 overall.

Cleveland Browns

The Browns are in a similar situation to Cincinnati. A new West Coast offense under rookie head coach Pat Shurmur will emphasize the passing game, and Cleveland has lots of questions at receiver.

It's hard to envision Cleveland throwing the ball at least 55 percent of the time to its current group of receivers. Brian Robiskie, Mohamed Massaquoi and Chansi Stuckey struggled to get open consistently and make plays last season for rookie quarterback Colt McCoy.

Green could be that impact receiver for the Browns. But they have bigger needs, such as defensive line. The Browns are also switching to a 4-3 defense and are short on defensive ends and tackles. Filling one of those positions would make the most sense with the No. 6 overall pick. Teams like the Steelers (Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders) have proved that quality receivers can be found after the first round.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh's biggest need is at cornerback. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau specializes in getting pressure from his front seven. So the players in the secondary need to be physical and sure tacklers. One possibility could be Texas cornerback Aaron Williams, who fits that description.

Also, the Steelers are always in the market for 3-4 defensive linemen and linebackers, even when it's not a huge need. So don't be surprised if Pittsburgh adds more players to its front seven to stockpile for a couple of years and learn the system.

Offensively, the Steelers need help at tackle and guard. Many in Steeler Nation would love to see Florida's Mike Pouncey join his twin brother, Maurkice. But that's probably not going to happen unless the Steelers move up from the No. 31 overall pick.

Draft Watch: AFC North

March, 17, 2011
3/17/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: draft rewind -- examining the past five drafts.

Baltimore Ravens

Best choice: The Ravens were fortunate the Cleveland Browns were willing to do business with a division rival in 2006 when Pro Bowl defensive lineman Haloti Ngata became available. Cleveland considered Ngata but liked linebacker Kamerion Wimbley more and traded picks with Baltimore, allowing the Ravens to select Ngata with the 12th pick in the first round. Five years later, Ngata is arguably the best defensive lineman in the NFL and one reason future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, 35, continues to play at a high level.

Worst choice: The Ravens haven't had a lot of big misses, but 2009 second-round pick Paul Kruger is a candidate with two uneventful years in Baltimore. Too often Kruger failed to make the active roster because he doesn't contribute much on special teams. Last year Kruger gained weight to focus solely on playing defensive end but was a backup in 11 games and recorded one tackle and a sack. In two years he has only 12 tackles, a sack and an interception. This is a big third season for Kruger to find a role in Baltimore's defense.

On the bubble: There was a lot of optimism in Baltimore when former Texas linebacker Sergio Kindle fell to the second round last year. The Ravens drafted Kindle in hopes that he could be the pass-rushing threat they were looking for opposite Pro Bowler Terrell Suggs. But an unfortunate accident last summer resulted in a fractured skull and kept Kindle out of football last season. Baltimore is optimistic about his recovery but has to wait to see when Kindle will be cleared to play football again.

Cincinnati Bengals

Best choice: The Bengals took cornerbacks in the first round back-to-back years in 2006 and 2007, starting with Johnathan Joseph. He has developed into one of the better cover corners in the NFL and has nine interceptions the past two seasons. Joseph is now a free agent and appears ready to join a long list of solid Bengals draft picks who bolted in free agency. The market for corners is starting at $10 million per season and Cincinnati doesn't seem interested in going that high for Joseph.

Worst choice: Despite several red flags, the Bengals were enamored with Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith in the 2009 draft and took him No. 6 overall. There were questions about Smith's weight and worth ethic entering the draft, and many of those concerns still exist two years later. Smith also suffered two foot injuries that required surgery and has only five career starts. The Bengals have the option of extending Smith's contract from four to six years this offseason, but that seems unlikely after two disastrous seasons.

On the bubble: Bengals linebacker Rey Maualuga had a good rookie year in 2009 but followed it up with an average campaign last season. Now, 2011 is considered a swing season for Maualuga, a second-round pick, to prove himself. Cincinnati's coaching staff is challenging Maualuga to become the physical, dominant force he was at USC. He showed flashes of it as a rookie. The Bengals could move Maualuga to his natural position of middle linebacker this season, which could help put Maualuga in his comfort zone.

Cleveland Browns

Best choice: The Browns went with the safest pick in 2007 by selecting left tackle Joe Thomas No. 3 overall, which was a slam dunk. Thomas is one of the NFL's best left tackles and has been to the Pro Bowl in all four seasons. Cleveland's biggest issue is finding a quality quarterback for Thomas to protect. Thomas also is entering a contract year in 2011, and it would be wise for Cleveland to provide an extension before he hits the open market in 2012.

Worst choice: The Browns have had a lot of misses the past five years, but former second-round pick David Veikune gets my vote. Veikune was a surprise pick by former coach Eric Mangini in 2009 and was a bust from the start. He quickly fell out of favor with Cleveland's coaching staff and didn't contribute on special teams. When president Mike Holmgren took over the following year, he cut Veikune. I'm sure a lot of Browns fans will make the case for former quarterback Brady Quinn, a first-rounder in 2007. But Quinn at least played a few decent games, and the Browns were able to trade him for tailback Peyton Hillis. So the Quinn experiment wasn't a total loss.

On the bubble: Mohamed Massaquoi, a second-round pick in 2009, has been an enigma in two seasons in Cleveland. Is he a No. 1 receiver? Probably not. But there's a chance he could be a decent No. 2 receiver. The problem is the Browns cannot find out until they're able to land a top-flight receiver to take the pressure off Massaquoi. In many ways, Massaquoi regressed last season. His yards and touchdowns were both down compared to his rookie year. Cleveland could help quarterback Colt McCoy and Massaquoi by finding a legit No. 1 receiver this offseason.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Best choice: Considering the player and value of the pick, LaMarr Woodley was Pittsburgh's best draft choice of the past five years. Woodley was taken in the second round in 2007 and joined the starting lineup one year later. He became only the second Steeler to record double-digit sacks in three consecutive seasons and is money in the playoffs. Last year Woodley was one of the NFL's best bargains, recording 50 tackles and 10 sacks while making only $550,000. Pittsburgh gave Woodley the franchise tag this offseason and will try to work out an extension.

Worst choice: Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger asked for bigger receivers, and the Steelers tried to accommodate him by drafting Limas Sweed in the second round in 2008. The pick didn't pan out as Sweed struggled to catch the football. Sweed's issues may be mental. He didn't have a reputation for drops in college and many in Pittsburgh were easy, wide-open opportunities. The Steelers grew tired of waiting for Sweed and drafted Mike Wallace in 2009 and Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown in 2010. They have taken firm roles in the offense, leaving Sweed's future with Pittsburgh in doubt.

On the bubble: Second-round pick Jason Worilds was a surprise choice in 2010. Pittsburgh has a wealth of talented linebackers, but it's a position it likes to stockpile for defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's 3-4 scheme. Like most defenders in Pittsburgh, Worilds has to wait his turn and played mostly special teams last season. Worilds recorded two sacks in limited playing time, but it doesn’t appear he will have a chance to crack the starting lineup for a while.

Draft Watch: AFC North

April, 21, 2010
4/21/10
1:07
PM ET
NFC dream/Plan B: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Dream scenario/Plan B.

Cleveland Browns

The Browns have a lot of needs, so there are multiple dream scenarios. The biggest (pipe) dream would be to somehow land former Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford, who is expected to go No. 1 overall to the St. Louis Rams. Cleveland president Mike Holmgren knows how important having a long-term solution at quarterback is, and he's entertained trade talks with St. Louis about trading up to No. 1. But the reality is it would likely cost the Browns their entire draft. A more realistic dream scenario would be to land Tennessee safety Eric Berry at No. 7. He would be a perfect fit in Cleveland's secondary, which also added veteran cornerback Sheldon Brown this offseason. Berry is a strong candidate to be selected by the Kansas City Chiefs at No. 5. Plan B would be to take safety Earl Thomas, who is not rated far behind Berry, or trade back to get multiple picks.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers like several players, but they would love for Florida cornerback Joe Haden to fall to them at No. 18. The scenario played out in ESPN.com's blogger mock draft this week, so perhaps there is a chance. Pittsburgh could also entertain trading up to get Haden if he falls into the teens. The Steelers have 10 picks and don't have that many holes. Haden, the best cover corner in the draft, was initially projected to be a sure top-10 pick until a poor performance at the NFL combine raised some questions about his speed. Pittsburgh hopes those questions remain this week. If not, offensive linemen Maurkice Pouncey or Mike Iupati wouldn't be bad secondary choices for the Steelers. Both would help their running game.

Cincinnati Bengals

The reigning AFC North champs don't have a lot of glaring holes. A player the Bengals could have in mind is Thomas, who is rapidly climbing up draft boards. Cincinnati struggled to cover slot receivers and tight ends over the middle last season, and Thomas has great instincts in coverage to solve that problem. Keep in mind Pittsburgh and the Baltimore Ravens both have playmaking safeties in Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed, respectively. Those two have given Cincinnati headaches for years. The Bengals would be able to do the same to opponents if they got their own playmaker in Thomas. Otherwise, Plan B for Cincinnati could be tight end Jermaine Gresham or safety Taylor Mays.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens could go a lot of different ways, so it's hard to pinpoint one ideal scenario. But a dream situation for Baltimore could be for receiver Dez Bryant and Gresham to fall to No. 25. Bryant is believed to be falling down draft boards and the Ravens wouldn't mind adding another dynamic weapon to the offense. Bryant also could be trade bait for a team (Dallas Cowboys?) looking to move up and willing to give additional picks to Baltimore, which has just five selections. If Gresham is still there after moving down a few spots and getting additional picks, there likely will be celebration in Baltimore's draft room. The Ravens would get the best tight end in the draft -- who can help quarterback Joe Flacco immediately and be the eventual successor to Todd Heap. It would take a lot for all of this to play out. So it's more likely the Ravens will look to add depth at cornerback (Kyle Wilson) or the defensive line (Jared Odrick).

Draft Watch: AFC North

April, 7, 2010
4/07/10
1:00
PM ET
NFC Approach: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Draft approach.

Cleveland Browns

This year Cleveland's draft approach is a mystery. There's an entirely new front office led by team president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert. The pair share many of the same philosophies but have never worked together -- particularly in the same draft room selecting players. Therefore, it's unknown whether the team will take a conservative or aggressive approach in two weeks. So far, the power pairing has made a lot of sense with its offseason moves. The Browns quickly got rid of two struggling quarterbacks and acquired veterans such as Sheldon Brown, Scott Fujita, Jake Delhomme, Benjamin Watson, Chris Gocong and Peyton Hillis to fill important roles. With 10 draft picks, it will be interesting to see what Holmgren and Heckert have in store for Cleveland.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers are very underrated for their wheeling and dealing on draft day. Because of their conservative approach to free agency, the Steelers probably don't get enough credit for frequently moving up and down the draft board to get players they covet. Last year they traded out of the second round to get more mid-round picks. The Steelers traded up to get receiver Santonio Holmes (2006) and safety Troy Polamalu (2003). This year Pittsburgh has 10 picks with a veteran-laden team that's just one year removed from a Super Bowl title. So it's debatable whether 10 rookies can make Pittsburgh's 53-man roster out of training camp. In other words, keep a close eye on the Steelers and director of football operations Kevin Colbert.

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals, led by owner Mike Brown, are pretty conservative when it comes to the draft, particularly when they have picks later in each round. The Bengals typically will not trade to move up. The team traditionally doesn't enjoy giving out huge contracts and is widely regarded as one of the toughest teams to negotiate big-money deals with. Last year's contract dispute with No. 6 overall pick Andre Smith was a perfect example. Smith missed all of training camp because both sides were unable to reach an agreement. Therefore, expect the Bengals to stay put with the No. 21 overall pick. They should be able to land a good prospect because this is a very deep draft.

Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore is similar to Pittsburgh in its approach. The Ravens are prone to do anything -- which can include moving up, trading down or staying put. In the past two years alone, Baltimore has been a big mover and shaker. In 2008, the Ravens traded back and then up in the first round to land quarterback Joe Flacco at No. 18. Then Baltimore traded up three spots to select right tackle Michael Oher at No. 23 last April. Therefore, you can never put it past general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens to be very aggressive. A major difference this year is the team doesn't have as many draft picks (five) to barter following the offseason trade with the Arizona Cardinals to land receiver Anquan Boldin.

Draft Watch: AFC North

March, 31, 2010
3/31/10
1:00
PM ET
NFC History: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: History in that spot.

Cleveland Browns

The Browns hold the highest slot in the AFC North, the No. 7 overall pick. With the type of money that's involved, this pick has to be a franchise player or it could set back an offense or defense. For example, the Minnesota Vikings selected running back Adrian Peterson at No. 7 in 2007 and he put the entire franchise on his back. But recent busts such as receiver Troy Williamson (2005) and safety Michael Huff (2006) haven't done enough to warrant the high pick. Either way, Cleveland has to be prepared to dole out a large contract. Last year's No. 7 pick -- Oakland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey -- received a five-year deal worth a maximum of $38.25 million. So expect the Browns to be paying this year's No. 7 pick upwards of $40 million this summer.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh has the No. 18 slot this year. The Steelers could take advantage of getting a very good player in what's considered a deep draft. In the past five years, this pick has been hit or miss. Quality players such as Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (2008) and Cincinnati cornerback Leon Hall (2007) were added to the AFC North from this spot. But there were also a pair of recent misses with Dallas Cowboys linebacker Bobby Carpenter (2006) and defensive end Erasmus James of Minnesota (2005). Last year the Denver Broncos selected Robert Ayers, who had a fairly uneventful rookie year.

Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati has the No. 21 pick, where the last two years offensive linemen have done pretty well. The Browns took center Alex Mack in 2009 and the Atlanta Falcons selected offensive tackle Sam Baker in 2008. Both players fit right in with their respective teams. But the previous three years were all misses for first-rounders. The Jacksonville Jaguars missed twice with this pick with safety Reggie Nelson (2007) and receiver Matt Jones (2005), who was out of football last season and signed with Cincinnati in February. New England Patriots running back Laurence Maroney, who was taken in 2006, has been decent but not great.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens hold the No. 25 overall pick, where there has been plenty of recent success. The group includes a Super Bowl MVP (Santonio Holmes), a starting quarterback (Jason Campbell), a one-time Pro Bowl linebacker (Jon Beason) and two good young cornerbacks (Mike Jenkins and Vontae Davis). If the Ravens have this type of success with the No. 25 pick this year, it will be a good draft day for Baltimore. The Ravens have thrived picking players late in the first round in the past. Great players such as Ed Reed (No. 24), Ray Lewis (No. 26), and most recently Michael Oher (No. 23) have all come toward the end of the opening round.

Draft Watch: AFC North

March, 26, 2010
3/26/10
1:00
PM ET
NFC Under-The-Radar: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Under-the-radar needs.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens posted a tremendous No. 3 ranking in total defense in 2009. But often lost in that ranking was the fact Baltimore had just 32 sacks in 16 games, which was 18th in the NFL. The Ravens need to generate a better pass rush, either by acquiring help via the draft or getting more production from their current players. For example, three-time Pro Bowler Terrell Suggs suffered through injuries and had a career-low 4.5 sacks. He needs to have a bounce-back season. The lack of pass rush also hurt Baltimore's pass coverage.

Cincinnati Bengals

Can someone who didn't kick in 2009 and who has bounced around with eight teams -- including a brief stint in Cincinnati -- really be the answer? Maybe Dave Rayner comes in this upcoming season and kicks lights out for the Bengals. But he wasn't the answer in Washington, Detroit, Miami, San Diego, Kansas City, Green Bay or Indianapolis. So it's fair to wonder if Rayner can solidify the kicking position during his second stay with the Bengals. Cincinnati hasn't re-signed veteran free agent Shayne Graham, which means a kicker could be a target in the NFL draft. The Bengals have nine picks next month and, at the very least, Rayner should have someone to push him and compete with in training camp.

Cleveland Browns

Coming off a 5-11 season, the Browns have a lot of needs and it's debatable whether any are "under the radar." But while most of the conversation focuses on quarterback, receiver and the secondary, not many in Cleveland talk about the running backs. Last year Jerome Harrison led the Browns with 862 yards thanks to a great stretch toward the end of the season. But can the smallish Harrison handle 30 carries a week over the course of a 16-game season? Cleveland's new regime has its doubts. The Browns need another quality running back to complement Harrison. There is very little tailback depth on the roster after the team released veteran Jamal Lewis. James Davis is coming off a season-ending shoulder injury and the team acquired Peyton Hillis in a trade with the Denver Broncos. Hillis can play both fullback and tailback positions.

Pittsburgh Steelers

With everyone healthy, the Steelers do not have a lot of holes beyond the obvious like offensive line and cornerback. So let's dig deep with a covert need: Pittsburgh could use a good fullback next season. The Steelers struggled in short yardage and in the red zone, in part, because they lacked a devastating lead blocker to bust open holes in the defense. Carey Davis couldn't cut it. Converted tight end David Johnson was average but played out of position. Frank "The Tank" Summers was too green as a rookie last season. Adding to the quandary is offensive coordinator Bruce Arians' reluctance to utilize the position. Pittsburgh often uses three-receiver and single-back sets at the expense of fullbacks, and perhaps the Steelers' lack of talent at the position contributes to that. But if Pittsburgh finds a punishing run-blocker at fullback, third-and-short won't be such a daunting task next season.

Draft Watch: AFC North

March, 17, 2010
3/17/10
12:00
PM ET
NFC Needs Revisited: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Biggest needs revisited.

Baltimore Ravens

Going into the offseason, Baltimore's biggest need was clearly at wide receiver. But following the recent acquisitions of Anquan Boldin, Donte' Stallworth and re-signing Derrick Mason, that is no longer the case. The Ravens could still use a blazer, but no one could blame them at this point if they decide to address another need such as cornerback. Baltimore has health issues with Lardarius Webb and Fabian Washington. Both players are rehabbing knee injuries and may not be 100 percent by the start of training camp. Look for the Ravens to address this position at some point in the draft.

Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati had the same issue as Baltimore, which was a need at receiver. Signing Antonio Bryant to a four-year contract filled a huge void to get help for Pro Bowl receiver Chad Ochocinco. Now the Bengals' biggest focus should be getting a pass-catching tight end. It's been a long time since the Bengals had a quality player at the position who can stretch the field. A case can be made that quarterback Carson Palmer has never had that luxury during his career. Oklahoma's Jermaine Gresham and Florida's Aaron Hernandez are two good tight end prospects who could fill that void in the draft.

Cleveland Browns

As we pointed out Tuesday, the Browns patched some holes in free agency but still have work to do to climb out of the basement of the AFC North. It's hard to pinpoint one need on this team. But with the shift at quarterback to established veteran Jake Delhomme, let's go with secondary help just edging the receiver position. The Browns need a big-time corner and/or a play-making safety. They may be able to get a difference-maker like safety Eric Berry or Earl Thomas in the draft. Both players are highly coveted on a lot of teams' draft boards. There also are good cornerbacks available after the first round.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh's primary need still hasn't changed since the beginning of free agency. It's no secret by now that I believe the cornerback position is the biggest void on Pittsburgh's roster. But there might not be a prospect worth taking at No. 18. So if a stud offensive tackle or guard (Mike Iupati?) is available to Pittsburgh, that wouldn't be a bad choice either. The Steelers could use a mauler in the running game to get the tough yards when needed.

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